Monday, July 28, 2008

Distance to Empty

I told you about the Big Game, but I didn't tell you the story about the trip back to South Haven after the big game. It will either make you think to yourself, "Oh, that sounds like something I'd do" or--and this is statistically more probable--it will make you think, "Geez, I'm glad I'm not married to that idiot."

C. Peevie and I hung out at the post-championship pizza party for about half an hour before we headed back out of town for the last day of vacation. It was about nine p.m. Chicago time when we hit the road. The low-gas indicator lit up on the dashboard as I pulled out, but I recklessly thought to myself, "There's no way I'm going to pay Cook County prices for gas when I'll be in Indiana in half an hour."

You know where this is headed, don't you? Uh huh.

I switched the navigator buttons over to the DTE setting. That's "distance to empty," which estimates the number of miles you can drive before you stupidly stall out and curse your stupidity on the side of the stupid highway because you've stupidly run out of stupid gas. I figured I had a handle on it; I was watching the DTE digits carefully. If I get too close to zero, I thought, I'll just pull over and get some expensive gas.

So as I was driving along, the DTE numbers were going down, exactly as logic would predict; but I was getting close to the Skyway, and from there it's only a few miles to the Indiana border. Gary was within smelling distance at this point, so I was confident that I'd find a gas station well before we hit zero.

[Confidence does not bear any kind of relationship to common sense or intelligence, or even to reality, it seems. Confidence is not a reliable predictor of success. Confidence is like frosting: it makes the cake look good--but if the cake is no good, people won't eat it.

OK, I don't know if that made any sense at all, but I googled "confidence + anecdotes" and all I got was about a billion links to anecdotes about how having confidence leads to success, so I had to make up my own damn analogy.]

Meanwhile, back to my story. Where was I? Oh yeah, I was approaching Gary on the Indiana Tollroad, and the DTE meter had dropped to about seven. No sweat, right? The first Gary exit was closed, so we kept going to the second. C. Peevie was beginning to get anxious as DTE had now hit four.

As we exited into beautiful downtown Gary, it was about 9:45 pm-ish. There was no gas station in sight. There was nothing but darkened warehouses in sight, as a matter of fact. "Is this Gary?" C. Peevie asked.

"Yup," I said, continuing down the deserted street, hopeful in spite of the absence of any signs of a gas station.

"It reminds me of Gotham City," C. Peevie said.

"You mean because it's dark and bleak and deserted?" I asked.

"Exactly," C. P. said, trepidation creeping into his voice.

Eventually, I turned the gas-sucking mini-van around, cursing my stupidity for having such a fuel-inefficient vehicle--but not yet cursing myself for not getting gas in Chicago; and at the same time suggesting to C. Peevie that he start to pray.

We headed back onto the highway, and almost immediately saw a sign for gas in two miles. Again, with more confidence than Danny Ocean, I figured, no sweat, we've still got three miles on the DTE gauge.

Two miles later, we reach the turn-off for 94, and I take the exit to head toward South Haven. "Um, Mom?" C. Peevie asks. "Isn't that the gas station down there? Why are we driving away from it?"

"Uh oh," I said. "I guess the sign for two miles to gas was for people staying on the tollroad."

DTE: 2 miles.

"Mom, what happens if we run out of gas?" said C. Peevie nervously.

"Well, honey, we'll just make a phone call and wait, or we'll walk to a gas station," I said, still optimistic. "But don't worry about that yet. We're still golden. But you might want to say another little prayer."

DTE: 1 mile.

"Mom, we're down to one mile left," C. Peevie said.

"I know, honey, but look--there's a sign for gas coming up!" I told him. The sign said that Portage was a mere four miles away, and--again with the confidence--I knew that the DTE gauge typically registered a conservative estimate of the number of miles, and gave no credit for fumes.

DTE: Zero.

"Mom," C. P. said, making it two syllables. "Zero, Mom."

"We're still moving, C. Peevie," I reassured him. "As long as we're still moving, there's a chance we might make it." My confident tone belied the pounding of my heart and the knot in my gut. Hey--it felt just like being at a breath-takingly close championship little league game!

Do cars use less gas at slower rates of speed? I wondered. I thought I remembered hearing during the "55 Saves Lives" campaign back in the Dark Ages that better gas mileage was a fringe benefit of slower speed limits, so I started conserving gas by slowing down.

"We're slowing down," C. Peevie observed. "I think we're out of gas."

But we kept going, and finally, three miles later, we coasted into the Marathon station in Portage. Gas was a scant $3.89 per gallon--fully 45 cents less than we would have paid in Chicago. I showed those Cook County politicians who were always raising my taxes.

And all it cost me was about four years of my life, foreshortened by anxiety-induced tachycardia.

"Well, C., that was an adventure, wasn't it?" I said happily.

"No, it was not," C. Peevie said, all grumpy-like. "I was scared to death."

Some people have no sense of adventure.


Anonymous said...

That's me! That's me! Only I did run out of gas. On the FREEWAY! I was in a dangerous spot. Had to wait 45 minutes for AAA to arrive while praying to someone to please not let another car run into me. E, you're hilarious and I love your blog.

Boy George said...

What a suspenseful story, E! While I often wait until the low fuel light comes on, I don't think I've ever pushed it as far as you did. Very glad to hear that you coasted into safety and replenishment.

(Oh, and I could have told you that trying to find gas in Gary right off the freeway wouldn't do much good. Tried that once.)

E. Peevie said...

Aw, you guys! You both made my day. Lilia, I'm so glad I'm not the only one. Intellectually, I know I'm not--but this kind of idiocy is not usually something that people make public, so thanks for the support.

And like you, I have run out of gas before. Mr. Peevie cannot begin to fathom this behavior. He's the conservative type that fills up before the tank registers half empty.

And Boy--could have used your road-weary wisdom on Friday. C. Peevie was right--Gary was a tiny bit frightening.

Anonymous said...

Laughing heartily once again. I freak out five minutes after the low-gas-warning light flickers on. I do NOT have a DTE measurement.

But back in my reckless days, I coasted into a gas station at Cortland and Elston, way below empty. My car stalled just as I pulled up to the pump. I wasn't quite at the pump, but the engine just would not restart.

So I was able to stretch the hose just far enough to reach my gas cap. 14.41 gallons later (my car had a capacity of 14.40 gallons), the engine roared to life. Whew! Not happening again.

From - Lucky Bucky

Anonymous said...

The story going around the gas station attendant blogosphere is that you have a 18 gallon tank, and that you filled up with 18 and 1/2 gallons. That's all right, kids today don't realize that it's ok that you sometimes have to walk a few miles. When C is 18 he will probably hitchhike to California for no other reason than it will be an "adventure."

Anonymous said...

JRO: I hope I can sleep tonight after reading that near nightmare story. I'm filled with angst and am thrilled that the story ended on a positive note! :)

Anonymous said...

J. Cub: You're such a mother, JRO.

Juicebox Mom said...

I've never heard of the DTE gauge, I need one now! so I can get even closer to running out of gas. Nice Story! I just found your site and am enjoying your Little League posts :-)

E. Peevie said...

Anon--I am dying to know who you are. I can't figure it out.

And you are absolutely right about the 18 gallon tank and 18.45 gallon fill-up. That's what I mean about the DTE not taking into consideration the fumes, which were obviously powering the last 3-4 miles of my drive.